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Fishing Industry Development

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 25 September 2012

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Questions (51)

Clare Daly


51. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the actions he intends to take in relation to developing a sustainable fisheries policy, following the Our Ocean Wealth Report. [40385/12]

View answer

Oral answers (20 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

I am delighted Deputy Clare Daly is showing an interest in our ocean wealth.

The Minister has some neck.

That is not to suggest that she should not be doing so. I am pleased with her interest in this area. During the summer we launched a document, Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth, which is going to be as strategic for our ocean resources as the Food Harvest 2020 document, which was launched by the previous Government, is for the food industry. Essentially, the document to which I refer provides a roadmap for the making of decisions in respect of areas such as seafood development, fishing, cruise liner traffic, shipping, ocean energy, marine tourism and so many others.

It is a business plan to bring about a turnover for the economy of €6.4 billion by 2020 from our ocean resource. In my view, we can surpass that target if we realise the full potential of this resource.

Deputy Clare Daly asked a specific question about the sustainable fisheries policy. That is where the ambition of the ocean wealth strategy meets the Common Fisheries Policy. We are in the process of renegotiating a Common Fisheries Policy. In my view, the current Common Fisheries Policy has been an abject failure in many ways. It has facilitated - in fact, encouraged - our fishermen to employ a discards policy, which means they must dump large quantities of fish over the sides of boats. Up to 40% of the fish caught in Irish waters is thrown over the side because fishermen do not have a quota to land it and sell it. They have no option because they cannot avoid catching such fish in their nets when they are fishing for other species. In other cases they catch too many fish in a haul and must throw some of them back into the water.

I will have to interrupt the Minister.

That type of immoral waste cannot continue. We are working with the industry to use technical measures as well as new fishing methods to avoid by-catch.

The remainder of the Minister's reply will appear in the Official Report.

We are also working with the European Commission and other member states to establish an anti-discards policy over the next three to four years, which I think will be very effective, along with a series of other policies on sustainability.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

On 31 July a new national integrated marine plan, Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth, was launched by the Taoiseach and myself. The plan sets targets for 2020 and 2030 for each marine sector and outlines 39 actions to be taken to facilitate this development. I expect Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth to act as the framework to be referenced with regard to development in each marine sector in the same way that Food Harvest 2020 is seen as the driver and is referenced with regard to development in the food industry. I also expect it to complement and augment the measures that will flow from the reformed Common Fisheries Policy, which is currently being reviewed and may be completed over the course of the Irish Presidency of the European Union, which commences in January 2013.

Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth sets out the roadmap for the Government's vision, high-level goals and integrated actions across policy, governance and business to enable our marine potential to be fully realised. My overarching goal for the new CFP is the development of a sustainable, profitable and self-reliant industry that protects and enhances the social and economic fabric of rural coastal communities dependent on the seafood sector, while balancing these objectives with the need to deliver a sustainable and eco-centred fisheries landscape for future generations. In the current economic climate, we need a policy that both simplifies and reduces the administrative burden while at the same time strengthening and supporting the industry's capacity to maximise employment in coastal communities dependent on fishing. In particular, I will be pursuing initiatives that will deliver and sustain jobs in coastal communities rather than those that promote a concentration of wealth and delivery of excessive profits for a few big international businesses. I support a system that maintains strong economic links between national quotas and the traditional fishing communities that these quotas were allocated to assist.

To my mind, the objectives I have set for the new CFP and the national ocean wealth initiative are compatible, and they will both contribute significantly to harnessing to a greater extent the economic and social benefits of our marine economy. To that end, I will continue to work with all stakeholders, both nationally and internationally, to deliver on the common goals which are in Ireland's best interests.

I thank the Minister. I am not sure why he questions my interest in this subject. It may be because there are not too many women who are out fishing alongside fishermen or it could be because I represent a Dublin constituency. However, it is a Dublin constituency which has important harbours such as Balbriggan, Skerries, Loughshinny and Rush. Thankfully, I am blessed in that there are a number of people in the constituency who have taken a great interest in our ocean wealth precisely because existing fisheries policy has devastated small coastal communities and the potential of our fisheries industry needs to be developed. It has been alleged by some of those people that much of the information in the report is not well researched and some of the information about eco-tourism is not based on any substantial research and not properly grounded. The issue of regulation and the need for independent observation and collection of data is crucial, but this is not happening. A total of 250 big trawlers are run by syndicates and, to a great extent, there is not adequate and proper information on what fish they are catching and discarding. Where are the Minister's proposals to fund a direct monitoring team? That could be done relatively cheaply; approximately €7.5 million would provide an independent observer regime to gather the data which could be used to develop a fisheries policy. I know the Minister is interested in fish farming, which is an important but small part of an overall policy for sustainable fishing.

I am very interested in fish farming but I am also absolutely committed to the broader fishing industry. I am upbeat about the industry because it has a bright future. However, we need to manage both it and our fish stocks in a sustainable way. Some of the stocks are currently in the process of recovery. For example, many of the fishermen whom Deputy Daly knows are fishing in the Irish Sea and they will know that a cod recovery plan is in place there.

With regard to the Deputy's point about the collection of data, in many ways the European Commission uses Ireland and the Marine Institute as the example of how data should be collected. The Marine Institute is independent of the fishing industry and it has credibility within the industry. One of the reasons for Ireland's significant quota increases in a series of species last year was that the Marine Institute played a central role in last December's negotiations on the annual quota allocations or TACs, total allowable catches, for the Irish fishing fleet. We will continue to take a scientific approach to the management of fish stocks. We will not be catching fish that are not there.

We will, where possible, put measures in place to ensure stocks can recover and the fishing industry can grow. We are unusual in Europe in that only some 20% of the fish caught in the waters we control are caught by Irish boats, with the remaining 80% being caught by foreign fleets. We are obliged to collect the data from all of these boats. As such, we have strongly supported the Commission's proposal for electronic logbooks, for example, which would allow us to gather the data as quickly as possible from the many fleets that come in and out of Irish waters at different times. It is a complex job. Only this morning we made the case to the Commission that the European Fisheries Fund should support countries such as Ireland to put improved data collection systems in place to manage our fish stocks.

The Minister has touched on precisely the point I am making. Despite the presence of foreign trawlers in our waters, some 250 of them run by syndicates engaged in this type of activity, we do not have an effective, independent observation regime in place. A mere 1% of the €750 million European Fisheries Fund would support 250 jobs in such a capacity, collecting the data and informing future policy. In addition, we must enhance the area of eco-tourism. A difficulty in this regard, however, is that our ocean wealth is not properly researched. Activities such as recreational fishing which have been well exploited and developed in Britain have not been given the same prominence here.

I reject the contention that our ocean wealth has not been properly researched. If one includes the Attorney General's office, ten Departments were involved in putting this report together. For the first time, we have an integrated maritime strategy which involves all of the relevant Departments working collectively. I chair the implementation group which meets on a bimonthly basis to discuss a range of issues relating to our ocean resource and how we can best obtain value from it. We are taking a proactive approach with a view to realising the ambition expressed in the report. In fact, I hope to upgrade some of the targets set out in that document for the various sectors.

On the issue of data collection and enforcement of the rules in terms of quotas, catches and so on, this is primarily a matter for the Naval Service, in co-operation with the Marine Institute and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority. These bodies are rigorous in policing the implementation of the rules, but the reality is that we are talking about a vast amount of space to be patrolled. When boats are coming into Irish waters for eight or ten hours but without ever coming closer than 150 miles from shore, they are difficult to monitor and police. That is why the introduction of electronic logbooks is so important.

What is the current valuation of the total allowable catch and discards allocated to non-Irish fishing operations within our waters?

The valuation of Ireland's total allowable catch went beyond €250 million for the first time last year.

That is not what I asked.

I am getting to the Deputy's question. The value of fish caught in Irish waters by non-Irish vessels represents some 20% of that total. In fact, it probably represents slightly more in value terms if one takes mackerel into account. The value of the catch for other fleets in our waters would be up to some €800 million.

Does that include discards?

No, because discards are not included in the total allowable catch - that is the point.

That is a separate debate.

It involves fishing in our waters.

If one does not have a quota, one cannot catch fish. That is the essence of the problem.